Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Corporate Welfare Lives, Especially for Baseball" NY Times 2/27/8

Corporate Welfare Lives, Especially for Baseball

Published: February 27, 2008

More than four years ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg claimed victory over one of the city’s longest-running three-card-monte operations: big companies demanding, and getting, tax breaks to remain in New York when they really weren’t going anywhere.

“We’ve essentially ended corporate welfare as we know it, by no longer paying companies — who wouldn’t have left anyway — to stay in our great city,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

This week, details are emerging about $20 million in tax breaks that the city is ready to provide for Major League Baseball to put a new television network in an office tower that would be built in East Harlem — a deal that officials say makes good economic sense for the city, but which critics see as another episode of binge subsidies to fabulously profitable professional sports operations.

For decades, pretty much every New York mayor has made a pronouncement almost exactly like the one Mr. Bloomberg made in October 2003. There would be no corporate handouts in their governments, only hard-headed business deals in which enough jobs would be saved or created to outweigh the cost of the subsidy.

Since Mr. Bloomberg declared victory over corporate welfare, Goldman Sachs has been given $650 million in city and state subsidies to build a headquarters in Battery Park City. JP Morgan Chase got about $240 million to build in Lower Manhattan after threatening to move to Stamford, Conn., although the mayor of Stamford said he had never heard from Chase about it. These funds were needed, state and city officials said, to help rebuild the streets left desolate by the attacks of Sept. 11.

Big as those handouts were, they have been dwarfed by public subsidies that have nothing to do with Lower Manhattan. For the city’s two baseball teams, the Bloomberg administration has agreed to build new highways, train stations, garages and parkland so the teams can have new ballparks.

All told, the city and state have agreed to provide about $1.3 billion to the Yankees and Mets, whose new stadiums will have fewer seats and more expensive tickets. Corporate welfare has been transformed into monopoly welfare.

Major League Baseball plans to put a new television network in an office building that would go up near Park Avenue and 125th Street. Although the precise amounts of the tax breaks are still being calculated, city officials expect to provide $15 million to the developer, Vornado Realty Trust, and $5 million to Major League Baseball. And city documents show that baseball would be able to use some of the $5 million to pay for equipment and furnishings for its headquarters, at Park Avenue near 46th Street in Midtown Manhattan.

Where baseball spends the subsidy does not matter to the city, said Seth W. Pinsky, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The city wants 125th Street to become a different kind of business hub, and the new tower would be the first major office building in Harlem in 30 years. Construction costs are no less in Harlem than they are in Midtown, Mr. Pinsky said, but the developers cannot charge as much rent.

“The rents barely cover the cost of development, or barely don’t,” Mr. Pinsky said. “We don’t see that we’re losing the value of these benefits — absent them, the project wouldn’t happen, so we wouldn’t have them anyway.”

Bettina Damiani, director of Good Jobs New York, a private watchdog group that tracks how the city uses incentives, says the city lost its grip with the building of the baseball stadiums.

“Our wounds are still open from the Yankee Stadium deal,” Ms. Damiani said. “The love affair with professional sports doesn’t make sense. Hands down, we don’t think these two projects should be publicly subsidized.”

Mr. Pinsky said that in the scheme of things, the city is offering a small amount of money to get a 21-story building on a piece of land that has been vacant for years, even though it is just steps from the 125th Street Metro-North station, where trains depart for the entire region.

The 350 to 500 jobs in the television network, which is a new enterprise, are expected to pay an average of $98,000 annually, according to city officials.

Ms. Damiani argues that the city needs “more transparency and accountability” in how it provides its handouts, noting that the city did not disclose its cost-benefit analysis of the Yankee Stadium parking garages until the day it began borrowing money for them.

Mr. Pinsky said, “We don’t give a lot of subsidies, but it’s very important to receive a positive return.”

Ms. Damiani said it’s corporate welfare, “with a new dress, and a different shade of lipstick.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Bronx politicians, Yankees president in a smackdown over stadium" Daily News 2/15/8

Bronx politicians, Yankees president in a smackdown over stadium
Friday, February 15th 2008, 4:00 AM

A breakfast meeting between Yankees President Randy Levine and Bronx lawmakers about the team's new stadium erupted into a heated shouting match, with one assemblywoman so mad she stormed out.

The fireworks began after Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. asked Levine for the number of Bronx residents hired to work on the $1.2 billion stadium.

When the Yankees president could not give precise numbers, Diaz and other lawmakers became visibly upset, several people who attended last week's meeting said.

A few minutes later, Levine became embroiled in a second dispute with Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, who wanted to know why a community foundation that was supposed to dispense $800,000 annually in Yankees contributions to Bronx nonprofits had taken more than 18 months to hold its first meeting.

Levine told Arroyo to ask Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión about the delay. She then blasted his response and angrily walked out.

A few participants said they were even more angry at Carrión and the borough's City Council delegation than at the Yankees.

Less than two years ago, Levine signed a much-publicized "community benefits agreement" with Bronx pols that was filled with grand promises about jobs for local residents and a new Yankees community foundation. The team made those promises to win City Council approval for huge public subsidies for the new stadium.

The agreement committed the team to employ Bronx residents for "at least 25%" of the total construction workforce. The Yankees promised that a quarter of stadium contracting would go to Bronx businesses.

Yankees spokeswoman Alice McGillion said Thursday the team had met its 25% goal and had done even better in contracting.

No one has verified those claims. The agreement called for the creation of a "construction advisory committee" of community leaders to monitor compliance and to get monthly reports on how the Yankees were meeting their goals.

That committee has never met, and the board of the new foundation did not even hold its first meeting until two months ago - only after reporters started asking about it.

"It's deeply troubling that a project of this magnitude, which will have such an immense impact on the people of the Bronx, has so many seemingly unanswered questions," Diaz said Thursday.

Diaz and Arroyo declined to say what happened at the meeting.

"None of us have ever seen anyone go toe-to-toe with Randy Levine the way Ruben did," another participant said.

In addition to Diaz and Arroyo, other state lawmakers who attended the meeting were Assembly members Michael Benjamin, Carl Heastie and Aurelia Greene and assistants of several others.

Amazingly, neither Carrión nor any of the Bronx Council members who originally signed the Community Benefits Agreement with the Yankees were present.

"Adolfo and the Bronx Council delegation boycotted the meeting," one source said. "They know they dropped the ball, and they don't want to answer any questions."

Carrión did not respond to calls for comment, but he should know about the Yankees employment practices. After all, Bennie Catala, the man the Yankees hired to administer its employment program for Bronx residents, came from Carrión's office.

Catala's office, according to the CBA agreement, gets $450,000 yearly to do its work.

Another no-show at the meeting was Assemblyman Jose Rivera, the Bronx Democratic Party chairman, who said he was "too busy" to attend.

Rivera, more than anyone else in the Bronx, is responsible for the original deal with the Yankees. He acknowledged not knowing if any advisory committee had met since the agreement was signed.

"I've been told the Yankees are meeting their promises," Rivera told me. "If it turns out they're not, I'll be the first one to raise hell."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Talks over stadium fund gets heated" Daily News 2/19/8

Talks over stadium fund gets heated

Tuesday, February 19th 2008, 4:00 AM

After a nearly two-year delay, the board of the community benefit fund promised by the Yankees as part of the new stadium deal is stepping up to the plate.

But it's not without some rancor between the Yankees and local legislators.

"Our first priority will be to get money to Little Leagues across the Bronx before the season starts," said Michael Drezin, fund administrator and spokesman for the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund Inc. "The goal is by April."

The new nonprofit, informally known as the New Yankee Stadium Foundation, expects to receive its first round of funding by the end of the month.

A recent meeting between Yankees President Randy Levine and local legislators turned into a shouting match when Levine responded with vague numbers about how many local residents have been hired to work on building the new stadium.

Then, Levine irked the lawmakers even more by referring them to Borough President Adolfo Carrión to answer questions about the long delay in getting the foundation organized and its funding distributed.

The community benefits agreement signed by the Yankees to blunt local opposition to the stadium construction plan promises the fund $800,000 in cash and $100,000 in baseball equipment - along with 15,000 home game tickets - annually for the next 40 years.

Drezin explained that the newly assembled all-volunteer board has only recently been able to get its legal paperwork together to receive and disburse the funds.

The board, headed by New York National Bank founder Serafin Mariel, also includes Ronald Bailey, pastor of the Love Gospel Assembly Church; Roberto Crespo, director of Knock for Freedom; Susan Goldy, a local Realtor; Ted Jefferson, executive director of Bronx Shepherds Restoration Corp.; Leo Martinez, executive director of Alliance for Community Services; and Harold Silverman, a former judge.

Once the fund takes care of the borough's Little League teams, the focus will turn to the area around the new stadium site.

"We know that a number of people in the community are unhappy about the pace so far and are concerned they're being forgotten," said Drezin. "And we intend to address those concerns in a dramatic way."

Grants will go to established nonprofit groups with experience working in the Bronx, he said, as well as to "fiscal conduits" - nonprofit entities that fund smaller community groups and programs.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Bloomberg's empty promises are tradeoff for parkland lost to Yankees" Daily News 1/29/8

Bloomberg's empty promises are tradeoff for parkland lost to Yankees
By Geoffrey Croft, NYC Park Advocate

Tuesday, January 29th 2008, 4:00 AM

Be our guest

Even before it seized a large swath of historic South Bronx parkland for a new Yankee Stadium, the Bloomberg administration had promised the community it would not only replace what it was taking away, but would provide even more parkland in return.

Yet a close examination reveals that only 21.3 acres are actually being replaced - a net loss of nearly 4 acres.

The deal claimed 25.1 acres of parkland heavily used for active recreation, including baseball and soccer fields, and tennis, basketball and handball courts.

In return, the city has tried to pass off a disparate collection of "replacements," including Ruppert Place, the existing concrete walkway next to Yankee Stadium, and many acres of already existing, mapped parkland.

To get its replacement scheme to add up, the city actually omitted a 2.9-acre asphalt ballfield from the project's environmental impact statement. Now an "interim" track and field, it will ultimately become a permanent multistory garage.

Soon after my organization, NYC Park Advocates, brought the acreage shortfall to light, the Parks Department began to alter its numbers. (A breakdown of the acreage can be seen online at the Web site

It eventually claimed "replacement" ballfields at West Bronx Recreation Center - existing parkland 1.4 miles away - and Public School 29, a schoolyard built in 1962 1 mile away.

For more than a year the city's official tally included these two fields, which add up to 3.14 acres.

Within hours of my appearing on television to criticize the use of these projects as Yankee Stadium replacements, all references were removed from a media advisory on the Parks Department's Web site. The city is no longer calling these two fields replacement parks.

Of course, for the tens of thousands of poor people who depended on Macombs Dam and Mullaly parks, none of this comes as a surprise.

Before the City Council vote, I accompanied neighborhood residents to many meetings with elected officials, where we laid out these issues very clearly.

One by one, the Council members repeated the same thing: "They're telling us you're getting more parkland than they're taking away." Everyone said it would be better.

For the elected officials who supported this deal, better meant destroying 400 trees, splitting a neighborhood by building a 54,000-seat stadium, replacing lost parkland with inferior features spread miles apart, and - to add injury to insult - installing artificial turf on top of a parking garage.

All of this in a community that suffers from an asthma hospitalization rate 2.5 times greater than the city average.

Natural grass and trees, on the other hand, convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, absorb airborne pollutants like soot and dust and help cool down the earth.

The lesson is painfully obvious: Our public parks have few real protections if a developer is powerful enough. This is especially true when the parks are located in poor communities that lack the resources to fight irresponsible plans that have been imposed on them.

Being right doesn't help.